Al-Qaida plotted bombings and poison gas attacks against the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Jordan, two conspirators said in a confession aired Monday on Jordanian state television.
Azmi al-Jayousi, identified as the head of the Jordanian cell of al-Qaida, appeared Monday in a 20-minute taped program and described meeting Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi in neighboring Iraq to plan the foiled plot.
A commentator said the plotters wanted to kill “80,000” Jordanians and had targeted the prime minister’s office, intelligence headquarters and the U.S. Embassy.
Another Jordanian suspect, car mechanic Hussein Sharif Hussein, was shown saying al-Jayousi asked him to buy vehicles and modify them so that they could crash through gates and walls.
U.S. officials have offered a $10 million reward for al-Zarqawi’s capture, saying he is a close associate of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and is trying to build a network of foreign militants in neighboring Iraq to work on al-Qaida’s behalf. His whereabouts are unknown.
A Web site known for publicizing messages from Muslim extremists on Monday carried a purported claim of responsibility from al-Zarqawi for suicide boat attacks against Gulf oil terminals Saturday that killed three Americans and disabled Iraq’s biggest terminal for more than 24 hours.
“I have pledged loyalty to Abu-Musab to fully be obedient and listen to him without discussion,” al-Jayousi said in the Jordanian television segment. He said he first met al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan, where al-Jayousi said he studied explosives, “before Afghanistan fell.” He said he later met al-Zarqawi in Iraq, but was not specific about when.
The videotape also showed still photographs of al-Jayousi and nine other suspects. The commentator said four of those pictured had been killed in clashes with security forces.
Al-Jayousi said he received about $170,000 from al-Zarqawi to finance the plot and used part of it to buy 20 tons of chemicals. He did not identify the chemicals, but said they “were enough for all the operations in the Jordanian arena.”
Images of what the commentator said were vans filled with blue jugs of chemical explosives were included in the broadcast.
Hussein, the car mechanic, said he met al-Jayousi in 1999 but did not clearly say when the terror plans were laid out.
The bearded Hussein, looking anxious, said al-Jayousi told him the aim was “carrying out the first suicide attack to be launched by al-Qaida using chemicals” and “striking at Jordan, its Hashemite (royal family) and launching war on the Crusaders and nonbelievers.
Officials said they had arrested the suspects in two raids in late March and early April. Last week, officials said four other terror suspects believed linked to the same conspiracy were killed in a shootout with police in Amman.
Government officials have said the suspects plotted to detonate a powerful bomb targeting Jordan’s secret service and use poison gas against the prime minister’s office, the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions. Had the bomb exploded, it could have killed at least 20,000 people and wrecked buildings within a half-mile radius, the officials have said.
No trial date has been set in the case.
Airing suspects’ confessions before their trial is unusual in Jordan. In 1998, six men accused of affiliation with a militant group confessed on television to planting a bomb that exploded outside an Amman hotel. Five years later, a court found them innocent.
The unusual move may be an attempt to answer critics who claim the government has exaggerated the terror danger to justify tightening security. Officials in Jordan, a moderate Arab nation with close ties to the United States and a peace treaty with Israel, say the kingdom has been repeatedly targeted by al-Qaida and other militant groups.